Haute cuisine served up fresh daily at Cozymel

When most San Diegans think of Mexican restaurants, they rarely conjure up images of haute cuisine. But that’s exactly what you’ll find at Cozymel’s Mexican Grill, a gourmet dining spot that features fresh seafood and other specialties from coastal Mexico.

Even the familiar sounding items, such as carne asada and quesadilla, have a gourmet twist at Cozymel’s. The carne asada is actually a thick, 10-ounce slab of flat iron steak (not the typical thin strip). The meat is marinated and grilled, then topped with ranchero sauce and served with a Mexican potato and sauteed vegetables. The satisfying dish (priced at $17 on the dinner menu and $14 for lunch) is crowned with crispy onion rings. What a spectacular feast this is!

The quesadillas are a cut above as well. Try the spinach-filled quesadillas for a fantastic appetizer. The quesadillas are stuffed with mushrooms, red onions, poblano peppers and cheese - and the fresh spinach is delicious. Order it for lunch for $8 ($9 on the dinner menu). The quesadillas also come in fajita chicken and fajita beef.

The best way to start a Mexican meal is with chips and guacamole. At Cozymel, the guacamole is made tableside (which is almost a lost art) - and you can choose the ingredients for your freshly-made dip. This fabulous starter costs $9.

Among the other terrific “Botanas” on the appetizer menu are Mexican shrimp cocktail ($10), ceviche ($9), and that delicious melted cheese dip known as chile con queso ($5).

There are plenty of home-made soups and salads on both the lunch and dinner menus. The most popular salad is the La Jolla coconut shrimp salad ($13). This house specialty features four jumbo shrimp fried in a coconut batter along with mixed greens and mango salsa. The delicate dressing is a honey-chipotle vinaigrette. You won’t want to miss this.

The black and white ahi tuna salad is another spectacular dish - made with ahi tuna steak ($13).

Mole gets the royal treatment at Cozymel’s. Try the chicken mole enchiladas ($10 for lunch and $12 on the dinner menu). The sauce (which comes from Oaxaca) is made with pecans. Mole is one of about half a dozen wonderful sauces made fresh at the restaurant.

Cozymel’s signature pork rostisado ($13 dinner and $11 on the lunch menu) is a slow-roasted delicacy served with spicy verde sauce, rice, delicious black beans, and fresh vegetables.

Seafood is very popular at Cozymel, and you’ll find chile grilled shrimp ($17), Mexican seafood paella ($17), two salmon dishes, including a prize-winning chipotle honey-glazed salmon ($17), and a Yucatan special, made with shrimp and scallops. Some of these outstanding dishes are also available for lunch, and they’re less expensive on the lunch menu.

Think of Cozymel’s as a Sunday brunch destination. For $17, you get a buffet that includes salads, an omelet station, French toast, a taco station, fajitas and enchiladas, and a fresh catch of the day. The restaurant’s mouthwatering tres leches cake, banana pudding, and margarita cheesecake completes the feast.

A Saturday brunch - with menu items priced between $8 and $10 - is another exciting dining experience at Cozymel’s, and the restaurant is a favorite with the local Happy Hour crowd too.

The decor is as luxurious as the culinary offerings. Its tropical setting is a blend of Yucatan and Caribbean architectural elements. Heavy stone walls (built with massive stones imported from Mexico), tropical fans blowing from the high ceilings, striking Aztec pottery, and huge sculptural pieces create the magnificent ambiance. Powerful wood beams make the ceiling as picturesque as the large dining areas. The imposing exterior is handsome as well.

Even the outdoor patio is stunning, with its huge stone fireplace and spacious area for alfresco dining. No wonder so many groups choose the space as a party destination.

Cozymel’s Mexican Grill is located at 4303 La Jolla Village Drive. For more information contact them at (858) 658-0480.